Prof. Oquaye insists MPs should not be ministers

Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye (AMO), who is the immediate past Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, is a distinguished scholar, an academic, a diplomat and a politician. Prof. Oquaye who is also a Reverend Minister was recently honoured by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) by naming its Centre for Constitutional Affairs after him.

In academia, he achieved the singular distinction of winning within four years the coveted International Rockefeller Senior Scholar Award and the Senior Fulbright Scholar Award in 1993 and 1997 respectively.

He is a barrister of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, and a senior member of the Ghana Bar. Prof. Oquaye also served Ghana as a two-time MP and Minister of State among others.

He presided over a productive Parliament, which among others, passed a Private Members Bill in Ghana for the first time in the country’s history. He is a senior religious Minister of the Baptist Church, Dzorwulu.

The Daily Graphic’s Political Editor, Albert K. Salia (AKS), caught up with him after a morning workout to have an in-depth interview with him. We bring you excerpts of the interview.

AKS: Right Honourable, what occupies you after your Speakership?

AMO: Research. I’m always on one research business or the other. I don’t have to make noise about it but I’m interested in research. After this interview. I’ll take you to my library and then you can see. It is important you see it.

AKS: When did you get actively involved in party politics?

AMO: You know, I’ve been actively involved in party politics as a matter of principle for long because in 1992 I was the founding chairman of the Dome-Kwabenya Constituency for NPP. At the same time, I was the NPP Secretary for Greater Accra, and the late Peter Ala Adjetey was my chairman. The man later on I came to succeed as speaker. Very interesting, he was my chairman; very hardworking and honourable man.

AKS: What is your view on ministers being nominated from Parliament?

AMO: I want a complete dichotomy. A complete separation, in that, no minister will also be an MP and it’s nothing strange to us. We had it in 1979 under President Hilla Limann and we have it in America. We have it in Nigeria and in other places. It allows better performance of MPs and ensures accountability and responsibility can be more insured because you don’t appoint him or her.

AKS: But you could have pushed this while you were speaker.

AMO: I could have also done that but the table was also quite full, except that I spoke about them on various occasions and as for the dichotomy, I can assure you that we had meetings upon that as well, in that,I know very well that the Right Honourable Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin supports that viewpoint and he’s very experienced and a good parliamentarian. The Honourable Majority and the Honourable Minority leaders support it. We have the same view that to strengthen parliament, we would need to have a dichotomy. Let the ministers do their work and let the members of parliament also do their work and then check them.

AKS: Now, that leads to the issue of the current hung parliament. Looking at it, what do you make of it and also what can be done to ensure harmony more or less in such situations in our parliament?

AMO: It is a very difficult situation. But we should remember, in America, Presidents work with the majority coming from the other party. It has happened several times. The president is a Democrat, majority in the House are Republicans. It happens. The majority must accommodate the minority. There must be more lobbying. The minority too should know that the majority has a programme or the government has the programme. So, you can make your point but don’t be inhibitive. We don’t want inhibitive opposition whether it is made up of NPP or NDC. I like to choose my words carefully because of the nature of our divisive politics. You must not be inhibitive and you must know that you are not ruling. If they say their policy is good and if you make all your points and they insist on going that way, it’s not something to really go on fighting about because the people will judge someday. Ultimately, the people will judge. We have told you that we don’t support policy A. We have told you that this your policy A is not good but if you insist, we are not going to inhibit you, otherwise it may look as if it is good but we don’t want you to succeed. This is how the American man has worked. So, you will know clearly that, when this bill was being passed, Democratic Party was against it. The Republicans insisted. Today, look at how it has worried us. So, these Republicans, we want them out. That is politics. So, you make your point strongly to a certain point but you are not inhibitive and I’m not saying inhibitive in regard to any political party. We should all, when we are in opposition work towards not being inhibitive. If that is what they want, we have made our point. Fine. We live to see. That is politics and that is democracy.

AKS: Let’s go to the issue of party financing. You have indicated that the country needs to review the issue of party financing. From your perspective, how do you suggest this to be done?

AMO: Yes. If you take the Hansard today, you will see that the Majority Leader during my time, the Minority Leader and a number of members of parliament had made very rich contributions about moneyocracy. They are all not happy about it. Within internal party democracy processes, there’s moneyocracy. And also when it comes to the elections, that is, interparty and intraparty, both have become a matter of moneyocracy and they are decrying it.

AKS: Still on this, will you suggest or recommend the state funding of political parties and in what way?

AMO: Yes. You know that in Ghana we have already done some work on state funding. It has been discussed by various think tanks and also by the state itself. Some recommendations have been made but we have not implemented them.

AKS: What about the abuse of incumbency?

AMO: Every party in opposition in this country during the Fourth Republic has accused the party in government of abuse of incumbency. Should we leave it like that or look at what abuse of incumbency implies? We must then observe and identify the implications, and that they are worked at and stop them. Let me give you an example I learnt in India. At one time when I was there, the Deputy Prime Minister during political campaign time went to a particular part of India to do official business and some campaign in a government helicopter. At a certain time of the day, when it was 6pm and he had to fly back, he was warned that he could not use the helicopter again. Because official time was past as there was a rule which banned him from using the state machinery for his political campaign and he obliged. It means that there are certain rules which exist and we can also research, analyse and bring them to our country so that we don’t have some flying in planes and others going by road or trotro all in the campaign.

AKS: How does the state address the surge in political parties?

AMO: That is parasitic, that is the appropriate word in literature, parasitic political parties will not be allowed. So you just form a party so that the state would start paying you and maybe your relatives that you have put in the office. It won’t work that way. And incidentally, these things are not novel.

AKS: So what about the independent candidates?

AMO: If you are an independent candidate, you cannot become an independent candidate by your choice alone. If it is by your choice alone then of course you have to pay. But if a number of Ghanaians believe in you, that this man is independent and that he’s got the capacity to rule, they’ll pay and that’s the thing. The whole purpose of deposit for elections is to avoid you coming to joke with the process and I would like that Ghanaians must appreciate that.

AKS: On the issue of constitutional reforms, there’s been proposals for the Electoral Commission (EC) to be looked at in terms of the appointment of the commissioners and key functionaries to avoid the situation that people tag the commissioners. What is your view on it?

AMO: It is very important because it is part of the credibility and acceptability of the process.

AKS: Will you then suggest that we have a second look at it?

AMO: We seriously have to look at it. You know, in some countries, the Electoral Commission, we have members of the main political parties nominating. There’s an NPP man or woman. NPP has got two slots, NDC has got two slots. They are all members of the Commission. That alone is a big force. In some places, parliament appoints the commission. In some places, they have provisions for retired judges for a four-year term, accepted by both sides of the house.

AKS: Are you suggesting that we also look at a tenure for the EC Commissioners?

AMO: Yes, the tenure can be determined, four years. I’m just giving you some of the best practices. Out of some of the other areas, we can also think of something for us. I don’t have the answer but I know that there are other possibilities. We can agree for example that, if it is a four-year term or a six-year term and that the person must be a retired judge of the Appeal Court or Supreme Court. You will find that, if you make a man like, at the time that Justice Brobbey retired, Justice Date-Bah, the two lady Justices who had just retired, you know, they have integrity. All these ladies and gentlemen that I’ve just mentioned, you will find that they are going to be the chairperson only and therefore supervise. Under their watch, they will make sure that everything is okay.

AKS: Will this resolve the problem of some political parties accusing the EC of
bias or partisanship?

AMO: From 1992, when we wrote the stolen verdict of which I was a principal writer and we were not happy with what happened, nobody has ever shown full happiness. So we must examine this and know that it is important to have a system that I will call detached. I like some of those words, ‘detached’ from the government and that goes to other powers of appointment of the president. So, this presidential appointee business, we have to rethink it. And without regard or reference to any particular president.

AKS: Can you please give a typical example of something that you influenced for it to be implemented politically?

AMO: When I was going to be speaker for example, I had spoken a lot about private members bill. I found it very unbecoming that MPs could not themselves introduce bills in Parliament. I said to myself that even the British who brought us those ideas had moved away from it and there’s vigorous private members bills in Britain and so on and so forth. When I was second deputy speaker, I took steps to research on this when I went to Britain on holiday. Although at the time I could not push it through, I caused a whole conference to be held and brought experts to speak on it.

AKS: What was the outcome of the conference?

AMO: We built a consensus and when finally we were going to have that motion on it, it was moved by the Majority Leader and seconded by the Minority Leader so it was a matter of the style of the Speaker and his position and the strategy adopted for everyone to understand. In fact, we even had a media day on it so that members of the media would understand and also propagate it.

AKS: So indirectly, you initiated it through research and then when the opportunity came for instance, the private members bill, you pushed it through. So based on your recommendations at your lecture, what happens to the Professor Fiadjoe Constitutional Reform Commission’s report?

AMO: It is a very useful report because a lot of work was done on it. Knowledge is a continuum. Experience continues to rehearse itself. And that’s when experience becomes very important. The work we are going to do at the centre and what other well-meaning people will also add to it should be by way of a typical constitutional commission, neutral of both sides. NDC is there, NPP is there, CPP is there, experts are there and then we can put these things together and see whether there are areas that we want to reform.

AKS: Are you suggesting the 1992 Constitution is not a good document or served us well?

AMO: It’s a very good document. It has after all served us well all this time from 1993 and after all, it was also borrowed from the 1969 constitution, 1979 constitution about matters again relating to human rights which was incorporated. That alone is a big heritage to be kept for us. So we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater at all. It’s a good document, largely speaking. We can tighten the screws and make it work better for us.

AKS: Talking about your proposals for instance, what the centre is going to do and the need to bring in experts or people from all the political divide to come together to form more or less a constitutional reform commission as you are suggesting. What if the government of the day decides that it wouldn’t go by your recommendations and the rests? So, what do you suggest to deal with this?

AMO: When it comes to the constitution, it’s beyond the government. It is not like one of those commission of inquiry and that is why when President John Evans Atta Mills issued a white paper on the Fiadjoe commission report, he really did it a lot of harm. A constitutional Commission is a different ball game and we must appreciate that. I’ll look at it in terms of what happened for example, with regard to the Transition law we have in Ghana. Transition Act. It was actually a work done at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). I was one of the consultants on it with Prof. Kwamena Ahwoi on the other side. NDC man, me NPP man and we did an academic work. It was accepted by both sides and then the bill that we had drafted, etc. and we got other experts in drafting to help in the process was accepted by both sides and it became the transition act.

AKS: Thank you Right Honourable.

AMO: I am also grateful for the opportunity for this interview.